“WInnetka streets were no-bottom streets during wet weather…

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and in hot summers, the dust lay six to eight inches deep”

Frank A. Windes, Village Engineer 1898-1940

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1894 - Street Paving begins

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1893 - Winnetka’s Water Plant begins operation, the first on the North Shore

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Villagers built a “modern” water plant and placed it in operation in 1893. It took water from Lake Michigan into the pumping station that supplied the water tower and distribution system. In those days service was supplied on a flat rate and water was sold in tanks for $1.00. Some villagers carried their own water and picked it up at public hydrants. They were charged $0.50 a month. By 1922, it became apparent that a filtration plant was needed to purify the lake water and avoid the risk of a typhoid outbreak. The size of the filtration plant was doubled in 1932 to a capacity of 8 million gallons per day. Through the use of better designed filter media, the plant capacity was expanded to 16 million gallons per day by 1991, without increasing the plant’s size.

The Village’s electric plant was conceived in the late summer of 1899, and with a loan from the Water Department, began operation on January 17, 1900. It originally operated at night to provide street and residential lighting. From that date until 1971, the Village produced all the electricity used in the Village. In 1971 and 1972, three distribution voltage circuits connected the Village’s electric system to Commonwealth Edison. In 1996, a connection was made to ComEd’s transmission system. The Village now purchases all of the power needed by residents from the Illinois Municipal Electric Agency (IMEA).

The Village has continued to invest in the utilities. At the end of 2010 their value had grown to $28.29 million. With very few exceptions this growth has been paid for with surplus earnings. These utilities are self-supporting and do not receive any tax dollars from residents. They do, however, contribute approximately $1.2 million to the General Fund of the Village and more than $1.3 million for the billing and administrative support of the Village.

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1900 - The Village’s Electric Plant Begins Operation

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1893 - The Winnetka Fire Department begins as the“Lakeside Hose Company”

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On March 25, 1902, the Winnetka Village Council created a legally constituted volunteer fire department for the Village of Winnetka by passing Village Ordinance 887. The ordinance provided that the Village be divided into six fire districts and authorized a Fire Marshal and two or more fire companies. The Fire Marshal was to receive a Salary of $50 per year and each member $2 per fire call. The Winnetka Fire Department became a combination paid/volunteer department in the 1930's. In 1993, it became a fully paid department. The Village of Winnetka’s first ambulance was a 1914 Ford Truck with a canvas enclosure (driven by policemen and volunteers).

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In 1952, the Winnetka Fire Department initiated an emergency type ambulance; in 1976 paramedic service began. Since all Winnetka Firefighters are also paramedics, both the engine and aerial truck are paramedic equipped and able to handle all ambulance calls.

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Police Chief John Coutre on a motorized bicycle during his tenure from 1909 to 1912


1911 - Community House opens


1915 - Winnetka Adopts Council-Manager Form of Government

Robert L. Fitzgerald was the Village’s first Village Manager, serving from 1915 to 1917

Winnetka first adopted the Council-Manager form of municipal government in 1915, when the Council appointed its first Village Manager.  The Village is now one of 139 municipalities in Illinois, and one of more than 3,670 nationwide, that operate under this form of government.  Even though many other units now employ this widely accepted and respected form, Winnetka was an early adopter—being the second municipality in the state to elect this structure.  Today, more than 150 million Americans live in Council-Manager government cities.

Since 1915, seven professionals have served as Village Managers, including: Mr. Robert L. Fitzgerald (1915- 1917); Mr. Herbert L. Woolhiser (1917-1951); Mr. Charles R. Miller (1951- 1961); Mr. Lee A. Ellis (1961- 1971); Mr. Robert A. Buechner (1971- 1991); Mr. Douglas G. Williams (1992- 2010); and Mr. Robert M. Bahan (2010- present). 

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1914 - Police Officer Jerry Cross poses for his official portrait. Winnetka’s Police Department was one of the first to hire African Americans.


1917 - Gertude Thurston joins the Winnekta Police Department as a Juvenile Officer

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1921 - Plan of Winnetka is adopted to guide community growth

The 1921 Plan of Winnetka showed extreme foresight in urban planning by calling for preservation of green space, the creation for a Village Center and recommending the railroad tracks be placed below grade. Because of its recommendations our community enjoys aesthetic beauty and freedom from the traffic and safety problems caused by railroad crossings.

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1933 - Skokie Lagoons Project Begins

Initiated by Secretary of the Interior and Winnetka resident Harold Ickes, this Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) program from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal was the largest in the nation. Approximately 1,000 men devoted ten years to the creation of 7 lagoons, 5 dams, and 2 drainage ditches.

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1938 - The lowering of Winnetka’s railway tracks project begins in order to remove its dangerous railway crossings

Known as the “Big Dig,” over 3.5 miles of dirt was excavated to lower Winnetka’s railway tracks.

Known as the “Big Dig,” over 3.5 miles of dirt was excavated to lower Winnetka’s railway tracks.


1942 - Skokie Lagoons project completes

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1943 - The lowering of Winnetka’s railway tracks project finishes

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1965 - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks at the Village Green


1980 - Gwen Trindl is elected to serve as Winnetka’s first female Village President